Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Saturday evening sermon

I was moved to deliver this sermon by a post on the talk.origins newsgroup by one of the fundamentalists there about why their son was an atheist. As I am a fully paid up Seventh Day Agnostic, this is my holy day (in Australia - it may still be Friday elsewhere, in which case you are no doubt thanking whatever deity floats your boat).

Ten tips for the Conflicted Christian parent

Christians who want their children to remain within their faith community must attend to a few things:

1. Don't state things to them as part of your religion that simply aren't true, or can be found out to be untrue with observation. While they may never go observe, or read a book, they may do, and you really can't take that risk.

2. Don't try to link your own dislike or even hatred for certain cultural or psychological types with your religion. What will you do when your son or daughter meets an actual liberal, atheist or gay and finds out they are decent people? How can you explain that while they may look decent they are actually tools of the Devil out to get their souls?

3. Be a little more inclusive. Sure, those First Reformed Baptists Mennonites down the road might actually have some different doctrinal views to the Second Revised Baptist Amish church you are part of, but they are Christians even if you think they are wrong about some things and they you. It's not worth trying to poison your children to them [See point 2]. You lose when they find out that the "heretics" have a solid rationale for their beliefs, or at least as solid as your own.

4. Don't try to make everything a religious matter. There's nothing religious about plumbing, for example. Likewise, science, sports, and dress sense. People can in fact like Korn and still be Christian (although I do not think they can like Korn and still have taste). There is no "Christian" or "Satanic" music, only music that is turned to a purpose. You don't have to like it. Same thing about what clothes one wears to church or work. I'm fairly sure that Jesus said nothing much about wearing ties.

5. Understand that if you try to force people's personal development down a path you think is the One True Path, you almost guarantee they will rebel. People will adopt a position because they have come to see it as the best; you can't impose belief, only surrender and compliance. Unless your faith is that faith can be imposed, don't do it. [Good luck with that]

6. Don't make it a good bet that atheism or belief in a different faith tradition will improve their lives. More flies are caught by good example than fear of bad examples. If you are a bad example of your faith, this will register with them. You may make it worth their while to leave the faith that way.

7. Understand that you can't control children past a certain point, and that they have memories of how they were treated. Treat 'em mean, and they'll be unseen. Children also grow up to become adults, and they can end up stronger and meaner than you, so be wise in how you behave as a parent. And what your own parents did to you is no justification for being a bastard to your own kids.

8. Realise that you might, in fact, be wrong. Cromwell put it thus: "I beseech ye, brethren, in the bowels of Christ, bethink ye might be mistaken". You are not God, and you may - nay almost certainly do - have false beliefs. You don't know what they are, so it pays to be a little humble when your son or daughter challenges them. Say not, "this is God's Word", but "I believe this is God's Word", and say it softly rather than thunderously.

9. Resign yourself to the fact that they may choose to leave your faith anyway. You can't control this. Only God, if there is one, can, and for reasons He keeps to himself, He seems not to want to control the beliefs of people (or else we'd all believe without any say in the matter).

10. Recognise that those who differ from you - even atheists, agnostics and members of the First Reformed Baptist Mennonites - are moral most of the time, and seriously very very rarely want to bring about the Reign of Hell. Many of them will help old ladies across the street, and pick up trash in the street. You don't have a moral monopoly.

Children who see their folks do these things will (a) be more likely to remain in the faith, and (b) be better people for having had good parents. And they may even teach you a thing or two.